Between marking, working my reception shifts, and taking a lovely break in Croatia before Leeds IMC and my viva, I am now thinking about my future projects and papers in more detail. I find, to my surprise, that most questions I get about my research from friends and family are not about my findings, but my methods. I’ve also noticed this with the members of the public that we get to speak to with the CAER Heritage Project, and the teachers and students in SHARE with Schools‘ workshops. People really seem to want to know how you find out things, not just what you find out. So I’ll be blogging about the research adventure, and hopefully publishing my findings. Keep an eye on my academia.edu and About pages for that!
Here’s what I’m doing: I’m thinking of looking at Leicestershire gentry families, so I should probably start by making some sort of list of them.
Here’s a question: how do you find out who lived where, 1000-1400?
At this point, it’s probably easier to hold a seance and interview somebody. But I’ve seen those films. They usually end badly, and no one is any the wiser about the historical context of anything. And I don’t want this:
… turning into this:
… So maybe not.
We’re back to the old fail-safe instead.
First, I’ll look at previous studies and find out what’s been done, how that can help, and where there is more work to do. I’ll also read up on general works on the period I’m looking at to put my findings into context.
Studies of the Leicestershire gentry in the Late Middle Ages are greatly aided by Eric Acheson’s book, A Gentry Community: Leicestershire in the Fifteenth Century, c.14220c.1485. Acheson argues that the fifteenth century gentry of Leicestershire were a cohesive social group, with the shire being largely controlled by an oligarchy of the most important gentry families. I would be interested in looking at this for myself, and seeing the development and genesis of this oligarchy in the previous centuries. Familiar names appear throughout the book – the de Greys, the Seagraves and the Ferrers family, for example, all three of whom appear in the thirteenth century royal courts and made a name for themselves in the world of courtly administration. Acheson notes that these external kin influences, along with concerns for political and economic advancement, were not major determinants of family strategy, while my work on the thirteenth century has shown that such concerns were far more central at this earlier stage. However, even in the thirteenth century, a certain element of individualism was evident, with main branches apparently divorcing themselves from cadet lines if it proved more expedient to distance themselves from the actions of their wider kin. Similarly the personal networks of the families I studied, while sprawling and often carefully cultivated, showed a clear pattern of local consolidation of alliances in addition to their desire for expansion.
There are other family studies to look at, too: I know that there is a study on the Seagraves, and my own study of the Cantilupes is going to be helpful up to a point.
Leicestershire is an active Victoria County History county, too, which means work on the history of the shire is currently being done. Vols. 2, 4 and 5 are available online at British History Online. Then there’s the Complete Peerage, and various antiquarian works on the county, such as Burton’s, or Nichol’s… Not to mention plenty of archaeological publications. Those who donated to the building of churches would often be commemorated in them, with their coats of arms appearing on tiles, or in stained glass. Nigel Saul’s highly praised survey of English church monuments is also helpful.
Archive work comes hand in hand with the books – not everything is digitized, so there’s a lot of travelling and looking at alphabetically ordered cards.
There’s the Access to Archives [A2A] database which makes it easier, but a lot of record offices are still not part of this network. There’s the National Archives database, and the National Library of Wales. Not to mention the National Library of Scotland, and National Library of France… and it goes on.
Once you have the names you are looking for and criteria to use, you’re away! You can then look up the families in the archives using the locations and date ranges as parameters. Then you sift through, and try to figure out who’s who and what’s what based on the more useful government sources, like the Calendar of Inquisitions Post Mortem (who gets what after someone dies), the Close Rolls (letters sent by the king and sealed closed, with a copy enrolled in the Calendar of Close Rolls), the Patent Rolls (open letters sent by the king, where a copy is made and enrolled in the Calendar of Patent Rolls), the Fine Rolls (see Henry III’s Fine Rolls Project) and the Feet of Fines, which usually contains some gems of information…
… Among other things, of course – – – then you’ll be able to sort out the mass of documents pertaining to the kin group you are looking at, and decide which are pertinent and important, and which aren’t the kin members you are looking for.
There is a lot of work involved. But look! The National Archives, Kew, have swans! Worth it.
Lots to do!
But first – I have a paper to write about Lincolnshire and the foundation of Cantilupe College, and some unrelated research for the CAER Heritage Project, too!
I really love research.